Rivalry games make college basketball more exciting than the NBA, where players get traded, coaches get fired, teams go from title contenders to last place, and suddenly the rivalry dies.
Sure you can talk about Knicks-Heat, Bulls-Pistons, or Lakers-Celtics, all time-specific rivalries. The Knicks and Heat did battle several times in the playoffs in the late '90s, Chicago and Detroit were late '80s rivals, and Magic's Lakers took on Bird's Celtics in three NBA Finals in the '80s.
No doubt that for each of those specific periods these teams were intense rivals, but who cared about a Knicks-Heat game last season? Or a Bulls-Pistons game post-Jordan?
All regular season games are essentially equal as far as the standings are concerned but winning a rivalry game counts for something more. Players and especially fans can take extra pride in taking down a rival, and college basketball is no exception.
Kentucky vs. Louisville, Georgetown vs. Syracuse, Duke vs. North Carolina, nothing in the NBA can produce the intensity and outright crazy fanaticism that college students and fans show for their respective teams.
Stadiums are filled with entire sections of screaming fans all with painted bodies and choreographed, traditional tactics to disrupt the opposing team on free throws. It adds a level of excitement and enjoyment to college games that just isn’t there in the NBA.
So are college rivalries better than NBA rivalries? Whether you are a college hoops fan or a fan of the pros, the pageantry and drama of college basketball rivalries is clearly the best that basketball has to offer.
One reason could be the greater number of teams creating more possible match-ups between good teams thus more rivalries. Another could be that college basketball fans have a much better chance that the team you root for will be around for as long as you are, and there is no chance of the team being sold or moving cities.
Therefore rivalries are based upon traditions rather than player specific teams and years. Along the same lines, the sheer number of college teams means that more people have a team they can root for, or identify with even if they do not live near a major city with an NBA team.
There's no question that college rivalries generate more excitement than practically anything else in the sports world, primarily because of its rich traditions, history and school pride. The NBA just can’t duplicate that.